Trying to See The World When the World is Falling Apart

Hayley Graffunder University of Edinburgh, Scotland


January 29, 2017

The past two weekends I’ve taken trips around Scotland with International Student Tours at the University of Edinburgh. The first one was to Loch Lomond, Inveraray, and Oban in the western Highlands, while the second was to Dundee, Stonehaven, and Aberdeen on the Eastern coast. I saw the snowy peaks of mountains reflected in the fragile placidity of lochs. I explored the ruins of the 15th century Dunnottar Castle on the shores of the North Sea and marveled at the luxury of the 18th century Inveraray Castle on the banks of Loch Fyne. I walked through cities and small towns, into kirks stopped at on a whim, and up hills and towers. I cannot possibly describe the beauty of Scotland; misty days produce a fairytale-like haze that covers Lochs and moss covered rocks alike, and on sunny days everything finds a way to glisten.

But while I wondered at the beauty of this planet we share, hundreds of people were denied entry to the United States and detained in airports, including those who call the US home, due to nothing besides blatant xenophobia. People in support of Trump’s Muslim Ban burned down a Mosque in Texas just hours after the executive order. The government is stamping out conversations about climate change like cigarette butts, Nazis are becoming more visible and dangerous, and fascism is creeping into my home country. And here I am in Scotland, taking pictures of pretty lakes.

There is definitely a type of study abroad student who completely shuts out the rest of the world while they gallivant across the world. They’re typically the ones who do this at home, too. For me, January 20th was a day of mourning and anxiety as I watched my heroes step down to a tyrant and his intolerant staff. For others, it was just something people talked about in the background and an excuse to go out and forget about everything. I don’t want to blame this way of studying abroad. It seems really fun to live in a fantasy bubble where everyone goes to class in old beautiful buildings and takes trips to picturesque European cities on the weekends. I don’t want to blame them, but I do. Outside of this new, exciting personal experience, the world keeps going. And when so much is at stake — when we’re in danger of our home country repeating some of the most heinous crimes in history, and in danger of catastrophically destroying our planet — it is irresponsible and selfish to be ignorant. At the same time, a compulsive need to keep up with the news (and to ruminate on potential solutions), is not how anyone wants to live or should live, whether at home or abroad. I’ve been falling dangerously close to ignoring what’s in front of me here and wasting this incredible opportunity to see the planet I want so desperately to save.

This has been the most difficult aspect of studying abroad at this time in history: striking the right balance between fulfilling my civic and moral duties to fight injustice and enjoying every minute I can of my few months in Scotland. I truly don’t know if I’ll be able to find that equilibrium when most of the time I feel like I’m swinging between the two extremes, fighting the guilt of leaving the US when so many people are in need of justice, support, and protection.

I don’t have any words of reassurance or advice on how to tune out the news for a weekend sans guilt, since that’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out. However, I do know that I won’t let my voice die across the ocean, because I’d rather spend my time bellowing over the waves to America than strolling down the quiet seaside.


Scotland Semester